A visit to the doctor

Murphy’s Law being what it is, this was the week — when Andy is at language school in Nicaragua, and our car is … somewhere? somewhere getting legal … ? — that I got sick enough to have to go to the doctor.

I get sick enough to go to the doctor about once every four years, so the prospect of needing medical attention in Costa Rica hadn’t occurred to me. (Tripletts don’t get sick, according to Dad. And when we do, we definitely don’t whine about it.) At first I tried to avoid it by going to the pharmacy. Costa Rican pharmacists are highly trained and all drugs other than narcotics are OTC here, so the pharmacy is a kind of inexpensive triage. But I must not have done a good job explaining my symptoms, because the horse pills they gave me didn’t help and I woke up the next morning feeling worse.

I realized I was only putting off a doctor visit because I didn’t know how it would work, and I wasn’t in the mood to figure it out. That’s a pretty silly excuse when you’ve had hives all over your body and an ocular headache for five days, so I finally put some shoes on and made the 15-minute walk to the clinic.

Linea Vital

The Linea Vital Clinic in Atenas. YES I thought to take a photo for the blog even when I was at death’s door. I’m very dedicated to you, Dear Reader.

Linea Vital is an ambulance service and walk-in clinic in Atenas — I showed up at 8 a.m. expecting to wait or be told to come back later, but I was the only patient there and Dr. Barrantes was able to see me right away. Both she and the nurse who took my vitals spoke English. After about a 15-minute consult she decided I probably don’t have dengue fever, and diagnosed me with an allergic reaction (to what I still don’t know, maybe detergent). She told me to avoid tomatoes and pineapple (:cry:), and gave me a prescription for Rupax, an oral antihistamine, after I wouldn’t let her give me a steroid shot.

She also commented that I am very white.

It’s easy to see why medical tourism is such a Thing here: The consult was $50 with no insurance, and the medication was another $5.50. If any of our American friends with lousy insurance need to get anything taken care of, now’s the time to visit — even with the plane ticket you’ll come out ahead, and get a vacation in while you’re at it.

The Rupax didn’t work quickly enough, and the next day I woke up feeling too crummy to work (which is pretty crummy, when you work from home). I took some Benadryl too and slept the day away. Today I woke up groggy but well enough to run a couple errands and get a haircut. Benadryl for the win, again. Seriously. Bless those little pink pills.

Solo Andy va a Nicaragua

I’m in Nicaragua! It’s been just about ninety days since Emily and I drove into Costa Rica, so I had to renew my visa by hopping across the border. (Emily renewed hers in October by going to California for work.) Rather than do a one day border run, I decided to take a weeklong Spanish class in the beautiful, touristy beach town of San Juan del Sur.

I bought a TicaBus ticket while we were out in Sámara and selected Villa Bonita, Alejuela as my departure point. I didn’t really know how I’d get there when I bought the ticket, but luckily Costa Rica has a pretty solid bus system, or system of systems.

On Saturday, I hit the road at 5:30 a.m. The bus from Atenas to San Jose stops at Villa Bonita – specifically, on the highway at the overpass going to Villa Bonita. I hopped off the bus, climbed up the hill to the overpass, then crossed over to get to the northbound side of the highway.

Villa Bonita overpass

Standing at the NB bus stop looking at the SB stop at Villa Bonita


Not knowing how long the local bus would take, I got there super early. During my 1.5 hour wait, a NicaBus stopped and appeared to have some mechanical problems. It was there about an hour and hadn’t left by the time my bus came.

Nicabus broke down in villa bonita

Not a good advertisment for NicaBus.


Unlike the local buses, which typically require one to wave them down to stop, the international buses know you’re there because of your reservation. The driver took my ticket, told me my seat number, and we hit the road.

Here’s what happens at the border. It was pretty easy, but your mileage may vary:

  1. The bus stops on the Costa Rican side of the border. Get off the bus with the receipt for your exit tax (payable at Banco Nacional before your trip), passport, TicaBus ticket, and the exit form for immigration. Stand in line, then hand passport, receipt, and exit form over. Get exit stamp.
  2. Get back on the bus – a TicaBus employee will ask for your seat number or find your name on their list before you board.
  3. While the bus is driven to the Nicaragua entry point, a TicaBus employee asks for passports and  your entry tax for Nicaragua. For me, that was $14 (exact change preferred).
  4. Get off the bus with luggage, grabbing any luggage stowed in the cargo hold. Bypass the folks selling SIM cards and the line in the building and proceed through the door to the baggage scanner. Put your bags on the conveyor belt and hand over your immigration/customs form. Grab your bags and head back to the bus.
  5. Load your cargo on the bus based on your destination in Nicaragua, as directed by the not-necessarily-uniformed baggage handlers. Get back on the bus.
  6. The bus will drive a little ways then park again. Get off the bus if you want and wait. A Ticabus employee will arrive with a stack of passports and start reading names aloud. Retrieve your passport and get back on the bus.
  7. Sit back and enjoy “The Hobbit” dubbed in Spanish.

While hopping on and off the bus, I met John Johnson. Previously from Georgia, he and his wife have worked with a Christian ministry school for troubled youth in Nicaragua for the past 25 years. He was returning home after attending a conference in San Jose about microlending, which is his passion. He told me stories of his successes and failures in microlending – a woman with a coffee cart who is doing great selling coffee on cold mornings at bus tops, the perils of lending money to a person who has an alcoholic in her family, and a former student whose refrigerator, provided by their loan, has him selling meats and other perishable goods from home to provide for his family. That man, who previously called asking for money, now calls to ask John and his wife to visit. Cool stuff.

On the road north, a TicaBus employee asked for everyone’s destinations. Mine was Rivas, so I told him that. Upon arrival in Rivas, I got off the bus and was immediately directed toward a taxi. I didn’t have the willpower to resist, so I just went along with it. The taxi was $25, which isn’t crazy for a 30 minute trip, but is certainly way more expensive than a local bus. Hopefully I can do better on the way back.

When I arrived at the Latin American Spanish School at about 2:30 p.m., I was greeted by Lorgia, my teacher for the week. I filled out some paperwork, paid for the classes and homestay, then we walked a few blocks to where I’m staying this week.

Homestay accomodations in Nicaragua

Mi cuarto en la casa de Carmen.


In a situation that’s typical of many families here, Carmen’s is a multi-generational household. She’s the madre de la casa and her daughters, their kids, and their spouses all live here. Full house!

The first and only rule of the house is, “No Chicas!” Este no es un problema.

Part of the homestay deal is three meals per day. The food is great and I’m full all the time. Here’s what happened when I told Emily about it:

Sometimes we joke about stereotypical gender roles


I wandered around town yesterday for a few hours listening to Coffee Break Spanish and exploring. Here are a few photos from that experience.


Boys playing baseball on the beach

Los niños juegan béisbol en la playa.


A parade, because why not? Watch out for flying hard candy.


San Juan del Sur beach panorama

Another photo in the beach panorama series.


Importing Calvin to Costa Rica

On Monday, Emily and I went to Alajuela to begin the process of importing Calvin, our Subaru Forester. Why are we doing this? It’s the law. Unlike perpetual tourism, which is alive and well in Costa Rica, there are no loopholes for bringing a vehicle into the country. When you bring your car in, you have 90 days on your temporary import permit. The car either leaves the country before that, or you import it. If we were to keep it in the country illegally, we’d run into huge problems if we got into an accident or pulled over. If we made it through the year without any incidents, we’d have trouble at the border on the way out of the country. Rock and a hard place.

So, (mostly) law-abiding and risk-intolerant as we are, we decided to import our car. Lucky for us, our realtor’s dad has imported a few cars and provided us with very detailed instructions. I can’t emphasize this enough — we went from having no idea of where to start to knowing exactly who to call and where to take the car to get things going, as well as what to expect throughout the process. Thanks Bob!

The steps are:

  1. Import the car (pay money)
  2. Inspection (more money)
  3. Registration, title, insurance (again, money)

Luckily, the customs agent we chose, Mario, can take care of all of these steps. We had some trouble finding the customs agent’s office, but with a phone call and some walking around we made it to our meeting. The language barrier was tricky, but luckily Mario’s sister was visiting from New Jersey and translated for us. We had previously looked up our car on the AutoValor website to get an idea of what we’d be paying. However, that seems to be only an estimate, because the amount we’re actually paying is less than we expected.

After the meeting, we left Calvin behind and Mario drove us to a nearby bus terminal so we could get back to Atenas. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right bus terminal. We asked for directions from the friendly agent and headed toward downtown Alajuela. The next bus terminal we found wasn’t the right one either, so we asked for directions again. After repeating this process a couple more times, we finally found ourselves sitting on the bus to Atenas, sweaty and relieved to be heading home. Since we’re car-free for at least a week, we’re very lucky to be in Atenas. Our house is close to the center of town, and it’s a very walkable city.

Later that afternoon, we walked over to the bank to transfer money to Mario’s account to cover the import tax and his fee. We waited in line for a while, making our way through the rows of chairs until we got to speak to a teller. He told us we could use our debit card for the transaction, but the fee would be pretty high. We opted to spend a couple days pulling money out of ATMs. After acquire the rather large amount of cash (sort of scary), I was able to make the deposit so the ball is now officially rolling.

I’ll update this post as the situation develops. If you have happened across this blog because you’re looking for information on importing your car to Costa Rica, please feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Update 1/18/2016:

This update is long overdue. Essentially, everything worked out perfectly once we transferred the money to Mario. After a couple weeks, we had our car back. Along with it were the new plates and three stickers for the windshield — one is just a sticker version of the license plate, the other two indicate that our Marchamo (road tax) and Riteve (inspection) are up to date.

A couple notes here — because we imported our car in November, we paid Marchamo for 2015, then had to almost immediately pay Marchamo for 2016 in December. If you have the option of planning the timing of your vehicle import, I’d suggest doing it in January.

By the luck of the draw, we got a license plate ending in 1, so we had to have our vehicle inspected again two months after the import inspection. This isn’t such a big deal — the inspection only costs about 10,000 colones ($20 US), and they only performed the safety inspection since it had passed the emissions test in November. It seems like a much more thorough inspection process than I’ve ever been through in the US — they check over just about everything — lights, turn signals, wipers, seat belts, steering, suspension, and brakes. It’s sort of fun being in the car for the suspension test, which bounces the vehicle around at different frequencies and amplitudes.


All the window stickers

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We are OFFICIAL! Or our car is, anyway.

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